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Prep Open-Water Adventures

Over the past few weeks, I’ve had the opportunity to do some fun events in the open water.

On June 13th, what would have been my Dad’s 80th birthday, I was fortunate to remember him doing what we spent a lot of time doing together, swimming.  The event was the Great Chesapeake Bay Swim, a 4.4-mile swim between the two spans of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge.  This was only the 2nd time I’ve done this swim, but I actually swam a bit before this one.

The big question of this year’s swim was, wetsuit, or no wetsuit?  The water temp was pretty warm, low 70’s, and it was a pretty hot day, so a wetsuit was really in question.  However, just about all of my friends (sans a few) were wearing the suits, and I figured it would be a great test of the Blueseventy Axis that I had picked up just a few weeks earlier.

The goal of the swim was to finish comfortably…to give me confidence for completing my summer’s target race:  the 10-mile Kingdom Swim in late July.  The Bay swim would serve as a check point to see how the stroke was settling in.  I’ve not done a crazy amount of training for these events, so I’ve been focusing more on HOW I swim, rather than HOW MUCH I’ve been swimming.  Because I wasn’t anticipating a race, I started way off to the side, away from the crowd.

On shore, I positioned myself in front of other swimmers to give myself just a bit more free space.  When the whistle went off, I ran into the water and sprinted for about 20 strokes.  I turned to see how many people were around me, and… well… I was all alone.  Not that they weren’t back there, but I was all by myself with no worries of the thrash that occurs in the pack.

I gradually met the main pack as the entry into the spans takes place probably within the first 1/2 mile of the race.  I never hit anyone, but tried my best to stay on the high side, or the "closer to Baltimore" side of the bridges.  I settled in and just started swimming.

About the only thing you have to worry about on this swim, is passing other swimmers.  Sighting is a piece of cake because you’re between two bridges.  Stay between them and you’re fine, you’ve got about 100 yards between them, and that’s your target.  However, the faster wave starts behind the slower swimmers so the shipping channel can be shut down for as short a time as possible.  Because of that, it’s not unusual to be swimming along, minding your own business, and swim right over top of someone.  I felt bad, and decided to sight just a bit more forward and plan the passes.  Oops.

Long story short, at the 3-mile marker, I realized just how easy it had been.  I ended up with a small pack of other swimmers, and kept thinking, "what would Fran Crippen do"?  I drafted for a bit, I swam around one swimmer, and went for another.  It was very fun, and I really thank Fran and Sara McLarty for all they’ve taught in their videos about this stuff.  Even without doing a lot of open-water "racing," when you hear their voices in the back of your head, it’s almost like you’re a seasoned pro.

Overall, it was a fun, smooth, and very enjoyable race.

This past weekend, I was able to participate in a Swim Across America (SAA) event in Greenwich, CT.  I’ve had fun with this swim for the past few years, and last year, created the short "welcome to the open water" series while swimming with a friend.  This year, SAA ramped up the event with the incentive of a 5-mile swim.  I was fortunate to be able to swim in this part along with my new friends Don and Sam.

Talk about smooth water!  Man, this was beautiful, and all the swimmers, the 5 milers, 1 1/2 milers, and 1/2 milers were treated to an absolutely beautiful day as well as glass-smooth water, which made all of the swims more fun, and less struggle.

The 5-mile swim felt like a pampered event.  Each of us had a couple kayakers, and had a lead boat towing a massive red balloon for us to follow.  If you got off course on this swim, the kayakers would casually coax you back on track, and the balloon boat would always be there for further guidance.  At one point my kayakers asked if all was OK, and I told them I don’t remember ever feeling so important in the water.

I did wear the Blueseventy AXIS again as the water was just a bit cooler than I hoped for, about 66°, and it had been a long ride up the day before.  Sure, I know I should be swimming these without, but we’ve been doing some long swims without wetsuits in the mornings, and besides, this was supposed to be fun. 🙂  What I can tell you about the suit is how absolutely comfortable it is.  I don’t have an exact figure, but I’m thinking I’ve now done close to 40 miles in my Blueseventy, and have used only a small amount of BodyGlide.  This wetsuit is the smoothest thing in the water compared to a seal.  This is the ultimate tech suit as far as I’m concerned, and as long as I’m allowed to wear one, I’ll be wearing one. 🙂  Ultimately, I’m about FUN in the water, and if it makes me happy, it can’t be wrong.

The two swims also showed that I’m falling into a "groove" in my swims.  The 4.4-mile swim took 1:37, and the 5-mile swim took 1:49.  Not sure if there’s any difference in pace between the two at all, but I did stop a couple times in the 5-mile to rinse my mouth out and talk to the kayakers.  They looked so cool, I wanted to make sure they were OK, too.

Both events were incredibly successful in their causes.  The Bay Swim raises money for the March of Dimes, and Swim Across America raised over $300,000 in this one event for the Alliance for Cancer Gene Therapy.

Open-water swimming is fun, and when there’s a cause that ultimately means so much more than what place, or how fast, then it’s all worth while.  The Kingdom Swim benefits IROC’s Healthy Changes Initiative.

All of the swims are simply means to an end, and I love that.  Give someone something to shoot for that’s good for them, and benefit something who needs money to better life for everyone.  They’re all win-win situations.